Developers get free Acer PC to push Windows 7: MS exec

LOS ANGELES — Was Microsoft just plain crazy giving out laptops to PDC attendees … or crazy like a fox?

Steven Sinofsky, president of the Windows and Windows Live division at Microsoft, announced during his morning keynote address that each attendee that paid for the full conference would get a free Acer Aspire 1420P Convertible Tablet PC. The announcement, predictably, drew loud applause from the audience.

In an interview later with Network World, Sinofsky said the laptop giveaway served multiple purposes, one of which was to thank developers for the work and feedback they gave during the development of Windows 7. Another was a learning experience for Windows team members who put together the specifications for the laptop.

“At this event, having the premiere developers, we thought it would be a fun way to bring them in and say ‘now you have no excuses. Now you have the hardware that we think you should have to help everybody do a better job,'” he said.

Early returns since its launch last month show that Windows 7 is enjoying some success and Sinofsky is not blind to the work that users, developers and other put into the beta phase of development.

But the gift also is a way for Microsoft to tap into its developer base to start working against advanced features such as touch and sensor. With many users lacking the hardware to support those features, it seemed natural — especially given the economy — to seed the playing field.

“We wanted a laptop at a reasonable price point, not the free part but cost of manufacturing, that had some of these key things in it that we think are opportunities for developers and things we wanted them to think about such as multi-touch, a camera, HDMI with audio, all the radios including 3G WAN and a sensor,” Sinofsky said.

When translated, the message means that Windows 7 has a number of capabilities that may be out of reach to developers who don’t have the right tools or the means to get them — i.e. a loaded laptop with the proper bells and whistles.

The free PDC laptop includes Windows 7 Ultimate x64, a 1.2GHz Intel Celeron CPU SU2300, 2GB of memory, an Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 4500MHD, 3G mobile broadband and a 250GB hard drive. It also included the beta of Office Professional Plus 2010, Microsoft Touch Pack for Windows 7, Live Essentials, Virtual PC with Windows XP mode, security essentials and Corel Paint it! touch.

“If you take something like touch and you realize a lot of people in the audience write line-of-business software that might be for the shop floor or factory automation, point-of-sale, cashiers and inventory there are so many pieces of software that actually benefit from being touch oriented,” he said. “And the good news is that you can do very little work to enable your application for touch, but with a small amount of work you can optimize it for touch.”

Without the work of hordes of Windows developers, the most eye-popping features of Windows 7 may forever lurk in the shadows of development, there may be fewer slick prototype applications, and the operating system may not get the credit for innovation that Microsoft thinks it deserves. On top of that, Microsoft can’t afford to have this operating system judged harshly after the Vista episode.

“We want everybody to learn that if you invested in what we announced at PDC last year, if you did that then that investment is paying off because we are telling you that millions of people are buying the software now,” Sinofsky said.

And what does Sinofsky think flows back to Microsoft?

“I think we expect people to look at the opportunity,” he said. And he jokingly added that the expectation is that some people may pre-register for next year’s PDC although he says there won’t be gift-giving one-upsmanship year over year.

“Win 7 was special in the reception of the release and there is an element of a thank you in there because a lot of people in the room contributed to it but there is also an element of ‘there is a lot in here’ and it’s true there is a lot in there and there are a lot that people can go do and they can be more successful with the software they write if they take advantage of that.”

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